“Department 19” by Will Hill

This review was originally written in June 2012, and was rewritten / adapted for upload here in May 2014.

I think I get less highbrow as these posts go on, and my reading taste doesn’t look at all diverse — my readers are probably under the impression that I read nothing but fantasy. (It’s actually very broad and varied, I promise you.)

I picked Department 19 up in the Teens section of the library, just glancing over the blurb and borrowing it mainly because nothing else had caught my eye. As a result, I wasn’t massively invested in it, and it took me a while to get around to reading it. Nevertheless, I got there eventually.What mostly attracted me was what it said on the back cover: Department 6 is the army. Department 3 is MI5. Department 19 is the reason you’re alive. It sounded intriguing and, bonus points, suggested that there was a military / espionage slant to the novel, since it would be weird to reference the army and the secret services if there wasn’t.

And this is the point where it would be appropriate to tell you it’s a vampire novel. Because apparently all I review on this blog is fantasy.

When I say ‘vampire novel’ I mean it’s got Van Helsing and Dracula making cameos, the main character is a descendant of a vampire hunter, stakes get shoved through chests, and sleeping upside down like a bat isn’t unheard of. As far as I can remember — and admittedly, I’m editing this review two years after reading the book — nobody sparkles.

(It’s in the YA section, so it should be no surprise whatsoever that there’s a hint of romance brewing between the main character, Jamie Carpenter — the aforementioned descendant of the vampire hunter — and the captured vampire girl. So that doesn’t exactly go down well. And, while we’re on the subject of YA vampires, there are also vampires who only drink animal blood, not human. But these existed before Twilight and can be seen elsewhere, so leave those stakes at home. These books have basically nothing else in common.)

For the first few chapters, I wasn’t entirely convinced: the writing style jarred with me a little, because it resembled the way you’re taught to write at school. Adverbs everywhere, replacements for “said” in every paragraph … Either it settled down a lot, or I just stopped noticing it, because by the time I was halfway through I wasn’t thinking about that any more.

The basic premise, therefore: Jamie Carpenter’s dad died a few years ago in circumstances that no one will entirely explain. The story they’re given is that he was a traitor and got killed by terrorists. In the meantime, Jamie’s trying to get back to normal life, but this gets complicated by shenanigans that result in his mum being kidnapped by weirdos. He ends up involved in the shadowy world of Department 19, who turn out to be an organisation of vampire hunters.

And they also have Frankenstein’s monster on their team, because when you’re hunting the undead, you might as well have as many other creatures of fiction on your team as possible, right?

It’s a fast-paced, exciting, fun novel, though the drama outweighs the humour. There’s also a dazzling slash of cruelty towards the end from Hill, which I wasn’t entirely expecting, but certainly swayed me in his favour. I have a soft spot for authors who are prepared to be evil to their characters, and who don’t pull their punches.

It’s definitely a book more suitable for younger people, say between the ages of eleven and fifteen or so. Then again, I read it at sixteen and found it highly enjoyable, and I know several others of my age and older who have read and enjoyed it, so that would only be a rough guideline. It’s not the kind of YA that would be likely to cross over into adult fiction, but that doesn’t mean you’re forbidden to enjoy it the moment you’re old enough to vote.

There was also a sequel, Department 19: The Rising, which I read, but I wrote no review of it at the time and I would definitely fail to do it justice if I tried to retrospectively remember what I thought of it. That may have been the one where I read 450 pages in an hour and a quarter, though … and then people wonder why I now need glasses.

I promise that I’ll review something non-fantasy very soon. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my love of fantasy, but I’m aware that I’m limiting my readership if I only review one genre, and it’s not exactly representative of my reading taste.

Also, for those who may be regretting subscribing because of my frequent posts, you can expect them to slow down once I’ve finished uploading old reviews and I’m actually reviewing as I read. At the moment, I’m just updating the archives, so it might be a bit mad for a while, but it will sort itself out. Thanks, and welcome to those readers who have already popped in!


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